Mayor's executive committee OKs plan to build more than 1,000 affordable housing units

Toronto is moving forward with a plan to build more than a thousand new rental and ownership properties for low-income residents.

City to provide around $17.4M in capital funding

Mayor John Tory says the city has taken too long to approve affordable housing projects in the past. (CBC)

Toronto is moving forward with a plan to build more than 1,000 new rental and ownership properties for low-income residents.

Mayor John Tory's executive committee approved the plans on Tuesday. The proposal was spread across several motions aimed at increasing Toronto's affordable housing stock.

In total, the approved motions call for the creation of 893 affordable rental units and 300 affordable ownership homes. The committee also approved a motion to build 422 mid-range rental units.

The vote comes amid what many experts are calling an affordable housing crisis in the city. A recent City of Toronto survey of some 4,895 publicly-available rentals found the average monthly rent was $1,829 per month, far higher than the figure the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines as affordable: $1,240 per month 

"The ability to buy or rent a decent home in the city was something that was getting out of sight for an awful lot of people in the city," said Mayor John Tory before Tuesday's meeting.

The proposal comes as a result of the city's Open Door Program, which was introduced in 2016 to increase Toronto's affordable housing stock. The program's goal is to create 5,000 affordable rental homes and 2,000 affordable ownership homes by 2020.

The city will earmark around $17.4 million in capital funding for the various projects, if they are later approved by city council.

While Tory lauded the proposed units as a representation of progress toward that goal, he said there is more work to do.

"We're going to have to ramp up those efforts," he said, adding that the city has made "not enough progress" on the affordable housing front.

Tory has set a further target of building 40,000 new affordable units over the next 12 years.

What's affordable anyway?

Some housing advocates say the city's strategy has a glaring problem: an inaccurate definition of what's considered affordable.

Currently, the city defines an affordable unit as one at or below average market rent (AMR), which is set by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

For 2018, that's $1,202 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,426 for a two-bedroom, though the cost is often hundreds of dollars more a month for people who are moving and trying to begin a new lease.

Don Collymore, a spokesperson for the anti-poverty group ACORN Canada, said the city must change its definition by pegging it to income, not the rental market.

"We have to look at the average of how much people make and build it based on that," he said.

His group is concerned that the proposed new stock of affordable units are likely to become unaffordable before long.

"As much as this might seem like a victory, we at ACORN are concerned it's a hollow victory," Collymore added. "The market doesn't go down, the market always goes up."

While Tory said his priority is to get the units built, he added that he would be "not unwilling" to consider a change to the city's definition.

"As Toronto gets more expensive, it may be that we have to take a look at that," he said.